What Is The IMET Program Where Indian, Pakistani, Israeli Top Military Officers Learn The ‘Art Of War’ Together?

India, Pakistan, Israel, and even Turkey may have their own differences and rivalries, but their military officers become ‘brothers in arms’ on American soil, thanks to the US government-run International Military Education Program (IMET).

IMET allows officers from diverse countries to study at military institutes such as the US Army War College and the National Defence University.

Officers from India, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey and other nations are eligible to join this program. Interestingly, officers from these rival nations learn the same course and undergo the same training. It’s a separate matter that they could end up using these skills against each other in the future. 

Pakistan’s Gen (retd) Durrani told the BBC: “They (Americans) include you in their studies and give you routine training in military craftsmanships. Pakistanis are not the only foreigners there.” There are people of 25 nationalities including Indians, Israelis, Europeans. So this is an international environment, you learn from this environment how the US system works.

Cementing Defense Ties

Through IMET, the US seeks to promote cooperation with the armies of countries it has friendly relations with. Seeking to build military-to-military contacts, it invites foreign military officers for training at the US military institutes.

US Army (USA) Sergeant (SGT) Michael Taylor, Foxtrot Company (F Co), 1-68th Combined Arms Battalion (
File Image: US Army (USA) Sergeant (SGT) Michael Taylor, Foxtrot Company (F Co), 1-68th Combined Arms Battalion: Via: USNA

The invited foreign officers undergo diverse training at the US Army War College and the National Defence University. The curriculum undergoes a change each year and includes diverse topics as language, concepts of human rights, and the law of war among others.

India, Pakistan, Israel, and Turkey also figure in the list of countries Washington maintains its ties with though they have their own rivalries and differences. 

A NATO ally of the US, Turkey has currently the third-largest bilateral IMET allocation globally. Turkey and India may be pointing fingers at each other at international forums, but here they are classmates.

Indian military officers take part in the IMET annually. And according to a report of the US Department of Defence, India has received $1 million as IMET fund since 2003 every year. Out of the nine former Indian Navy Chiefs, seven of them have been part of the IMET.

In its recent budget statement, the US administration has requested $13.8 million for the IMET program for the countries of south and central Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal are stated to be the countries of prime importance.

IMET & Pakistan

The US’ relation with Pakistan has seen many ups and downs. Although Joe Biden has not spoken to PM Imran Khan even once since he became President earlier this year, the new US administration is looking to renew its ties with the South Asian nation and scouting for a possible military base to manage Afghanistan. 

In January 2021 the US Secretary of Defence, Llyod Austin reconfirmed Washington’s stand to train future military officers of Pakistan through the IMET program.

The Trump administration had revoked the IMET training for Pakistan in August 2018, months after the US suspended the security aid given to the Islamic nation. The security assistance to Pakistan, worth USD 1.15 billion, was curbed in an effort to pressurize Islamabad to crack down on terrorists.

“The suspension of Pakistan from IMET program will close off places that had been set aside for 66 Pakistani officers this year,” Daily Times quoted a State Department spokesperson as saying.

Dan Feldman, a former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had called the move “very short-sighted and myopic”, reported Daily Times. “This will have lasting negative impacts limiting the bilateral relationship well into the future,” Feldman had stated.

Later, the Trump administration authorized the resumption of Pakistan’s participation in the IMET program more than a year after it was suspended.

The decision to recommence Pakistan’s participation in the IMET program emphasizes warming ties that have followed meetings this year between U.S. President Donald Trump and Pakistani PM Imran Khan, a Reuters report had observed.

The US also recognized Pakistan’s efforts in facilitating negotiations between the US and the Taliban for their eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The US’ move also seems to be aimed at bringing back Pakistan in its fold as the country veered towards Russia and China seeking military cooperation after its suspension from the IMET in 2018.

In 2018, Pakistan had signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia. Under this agreement, Pakistani would send its soldiers to Russian military institutes for training. 

In the same year, Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited China, during which the Chinese had reportedly lauded the vast military experience of the Pakistani Army.

The Chinese generals also “expressed keen interest in using the Pakistani military’s combat experience and enhancing bilateral cooperation”, according to the BBC report cited above.